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headwater |ˈhedˌwôtər; -ˌwätər|
noun (usu. headwaters)
a tributary stream of a river close to
or forming part of its source.

Today, Darin and I, paddled the headwaters of the South Fork Yuba River. The Yuba River is a major tributary of the Feather, 1/3 of its flow, which eventual joins with the mighty Sacramento. The Yuba River has three major forks, North, Middle and South. For the 12 Rivers in 2012 campaign we decided on paddling the complete length of the South Fork, which flows from Donner Pass westward to the central valley. The South Fork is a dynamic river with every possible kind of paddling from flat to Yuba Gap, one of the hardest day runs in California. The Summit Run as it is called starts within miles of Donner Pass on highway 80. Smaller tributary streams flow in to the upper reaches of the river. Within just a short distance from the pass the river gathers over 1,000 cfs. The water is cold to the bone and we do all we can to avoid being hit square in the face.

As kayakers and members of this expedition we get to personally see the changes in the river and surrounding areas as it descends in to the Valley. There is still snow along the banks hiding the white granite making beautiful and natural roller coasters for us. The presence of humans and our impact is very apparent. About half way down there is a house right in the middle of the river surrounded by concrete. It seems oddly placed but no doubt they have the best view.

Below is a sequence of photos starting at the headwaters of the Yuba all the way to Englebright Reservoir showing us how the river changes during its descent to the ocean. One section still eludes us, Yuba Gap. Yuba Gap is a hard section to get on because of the very narrow window of good flow. As Darin says, “ 300 is too low and 400 is too high.” The levels of this section are controlled by the damn at Lake Spaulding the highest of damns on the South Fork Yuba.

Interesting facts about the Yuba River:
•Watershed drains 1,340 Square miles
•Over 100 diversion damns taking water out for irrigation and hydroelectric power
•Biggest impact on the river came in the 19th century from hydraulic mining displacing 685,000,000 cubic feet of debris.
•100s of different Native American tribes lived along the upper reaches of the south fork Yuba.
•The name is suspected to have originated from Spanish explores naming it after the Uva, meaning grape, which used to grow along the banks.

For more information about our expedition at – by Galen Licit